Timelines and Open Graph, introduced at this week’s f8 conference, sit on either edge of the sword that’s just been run through privacy’s heart. It is finished. It is done. This turn of events probably makes CEO Mark Zuckerberg happy. Let’s look back:
“When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was ‘Why would I want to put any information on the Internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?’
“And then in the last five or six years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”
That was Zuckerberg’s January 2010 argument that sharing is the new social norm. But that’s only half of the sharing equation. Zuckerberg didn’t talk about the other half: privacy.
Timeline: Showing the World Who You Are
The first big change Zuckerberg revealed on stage was Timeline, the completely overhauled version of profile pages. No longer is your Facebook profile about what you did recently–now it’s about everything you’ve done on Facebook and beyond.
The Timeline interface lays out everything you’ve shared on Facebook. One of the new features, Map, lays out your checkins on a world map. My map is sparse because I primarily use Foursquare to share my location. But now that I see how sparse that map looks, I feel compelled to start sharing my location via Facebook.
In addition to laying out everything you already shared for the world to see, the Timeline encourages you to share more than ever about your life so far. Millions of people are likely to post their baby pictures so that the beginning of their Timelines — birth — isn’t just an empty box.
The New Open Graph: Every Action Is Connected to Facebook
Timeline is just the appetizer. The second announcement, the launch of the new Facebook Open Graph, is what will forever transform the world’s largest social network.
There are a couple of key changes that deserve mentioning. The first is the addition of customizable actions and gestures. No longer do apps prompt you just to “like” something on Facebook. Instead, you’ll share that you “hiked a trail” or “rode your bike” or “kissed a girl” (and liked it). Any action can be shared via Facebook, and the only limit is the imagination of developers.
The second addition is the new permissions screen for giving apps access to your Facebook account. It’s more robust and explains exactly what an app will be sharing with it. The result is that the prompt will only appear once. Once you accept, the app can share exactly what you’re doing to your Facebook wall as you’re doing it.
There is no longer a “Would you like to post this to Facebook?” prompt. It just posts. When you run with Nike+, it gets posted. When you use your favorite cooking site to make a new dish, it gets posted. When you go to bed with a device tracking your sleep patterns, it gets posted.
Everything can, and eventually will, get posted. Facebook has done something nobody has ever been able to do at scale: It has enabled passive sharing.
Twisting the Knife
In 2009, Mashable‘s CEO and founder Pete Cashmore argued on CNN that privacy was dead, and social media was holding the smoking gun:
“We’re living at a time when attention is the new currency: With hundreds of TV channels, billions of Web sites, podcasts, radio shows, music downloads and social networking, our attention is more fragmented than ever before.
“Those who insert themselves into as many channels as possible look set to capture the most value. They’ll be the richest, the most successful, the most connected, capable and influential among us. We’re all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we’ll make.”
While I agree with his assertion that in an age where attention is king, privacy is simply an illusion, I disagree about the murderer. Sure, Twitter, Flickr, Google and others played a part in privacy’s death, but Facebook made the killing blow.
But thanks to what Facebook launched at f8, we’re at the point of no return. Facebook’s passive sharing will change how we live our lives. More and more, the things we do in real life will end up as Facebook posts. And while we may be consoled by the fact that most of this stuff is being posted just to our friends, it only takes one friend to share that information with his or her friends to start a viral chain.
Sharing with just your friends doesn’t protect your privacy. I know the people at Facebook will disagree and argue that users can control what is shared with whom. But this is simply an illusion that makes us feel better about all the sharing we have done and are about to do.
We may not notice the impact on our lives immediately. But it won’t be long until your life is on display for all of your friends to see, and then we’ll all know what Facebook has wrought.